Trade organisations express disappointment and confusion.
The National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG), the British Jewellers’ Association (BJA) and ethical jewellery designers have reacted to last week’s announcement by The World Diamond Council (WDC) that it has welcomed an agreement at a Kimberley Process Plenary Meeting to allow the immediate export of rough diamonds from two mining operations in the Marange.
The Nag and BJA has expressed “bafflement” at the announcement that Zimbabwe is to again be included in the Kimberley Process (KP).
They have said the “message from inside the UK trade [is] of confusion and disappointment on the lack of effectiveness of the KP to prevent diamonds mined from the troubled Marange diamond fields from entering the supply chain”.
It was announced on November 1 following a plenary meeting in Kinshaha that Kimberley Process would allow the export of rough diamonds from two KP compliant operations in the Marange region.
However since 2009 Marange diamonds have consistently been refused KP accreditation owing to human rights abuses and alleged non-compliance with KP certification requirements.
According to the NAG and BJA the move by the plenary will allow stockpiles of rough diamonds accumulated in 2008 and 2009 during the height of violence against artisanal miners to enter the world diamond market.
Michael Hoare, chief executive of the NAG said: “NAG members are concerned about the future of the KP and have been contacting me suggesting that it has to take a firm line; being more transparent and rigorous in pursuit of its objectives.
“I had sincerely hoped that the Kinshasa meeting would counter retailer’s doubts once and for all so that they could pass on credible assurances to the public about the provenance of their diamonds. I fear that it has in fact generated “a lot of heat but not a lot of light” and failed to put their doubts to rest.”
The organisations have expressed worries at the “unintended consequences” outside the remit of the KP. For example, the largest customers of Marange diamonds are India and China, two countries that are already discounting stones owing to the abundance of new supply. There are concerns that this discounting will have a serious impact on the world market particularly in the supply of cut, polished diamonds and finished jewellery.
The owners of Marange Resources, one of the newly approved are owned or co-owned by ZMDC which remain under US, UK and EU sanctions, therefore no trade of rough can be made in these territories.
However the NAG and BJA have said it will be “impossible” to prevent Marange blood diamonds from entering the UK if retailers continue to trade with China. They are also warning that any diamond jewellery manufactuered in Asia now offers an “open route to market” for Marange diamonds.
Simon Rainer, chief executive of the BJA has a close working relationship with the Kimberley Process. He said: “At its inception the KP was designed to prevent the sale of rough to fund conflict against democratically elected governments. Today, the KP under the same remit struggles to prevent “democratically” elected governments from using the profits of diamond rough to sponsor political violence against its indigenous population.
“Whilst Marange diamonds maybe now compliant to the KP scheme, they are not compliant with the moral and ethical standards that the majority of the world subscribes to.”
Ethical jeweller and activist Greg Valerio has described the KP move as “naïve in the extreme”. He said: “I support the view that to allow Zimbabwe diamonds into the KP system is a grave mistake. It will erode consumer confidence in the diamond. It has permanently comatosed the credibility of the KP and forces the jewellery trade back to square one in terms of integrity of the diamond supply chain. It’s a sad day for the diamond industry and a sad day for human rights.”
Vivien Johnston, founder of ethical jewellery brand Fifi Bijoux, says that the agreement to allow diamonds out of Zimbabwe is failing many of the miners who are regularly exposed to mistreatment.
“This does nothing actually to address the torture, beatings or sexual assault to miners in the Marange diamond fields. It has been alleged by BBC reporters and witnesses as recently as August of this year that miners are being held captive and subjected to brutal assaults, rape and extreme violence in Marange,” says Johnston.
“Under no circumstances should the perpetrators of crimes against humanity be allowed to openly profit from their corruption. Whilst the export ban has only been lifted from two sites so far, this opens the door to middle men who will exploit any opportunity to profit from the lifting of the ban. I understand the pressure on the KP to engage with Zimbabwe but this action has only weakened its integrity and thrown the diamond industry further into disarray. We must not forget why Zimbabwe was excluded.”
There has been suggestion that an improved version of the Kimberley Process is needed, to provide a coherent compliance suitable for “today’s political challenges”.
In the US a new type of legislation has been created to prevent metals from areas of world conflict entering the supply chain.
Rainer has already noted activity in the UK and is anticipating talks between the UK and US later this week. He said: “In Washington on November 17 the US State department will be holding a series of informal meetings engaging with US jewellery industry representatives, UK/EU public office officials and NGOs.
“The purpose of these meetings will be to invite US industry to set its own set of voluntary measures to combat the frailties of the KP in its current form.”
Rainer said: “It is a fair reflection that the worldwide jewellery industry is confused by the current situation and that those with most to gain financially from the release of Marange diamonds have been the most vociferous in their support for Marange KP compliance”.
In a press statement Zimbabwe’s Minister of Mines Mpofu said: “We want to shock the world with our stockpiles. We are going to unleash our worth to the world and Zimbabwe will not be asking for anything from anyone. I hate begging myself and Zimbabwe will not be begging from anyone.”
The Kimberley Process was established in order to prevent the flow of conflict. In allowing the market to become flooded with Marange blood diamonds the NAG, BJA and jewellers from across the UK have asked whether the KP is “still fit for purpose”.